Is Sam Harris suffering from Islamophobia? Is it inexperience of Muslim communities? Or neither?

In his books, articles and public lectures and debates, Sam Harris engages in frequent diatribes against Muslims. He appears obsessed with the undermining of the Islamic faith in every fault-finding way he can dig up.

While occasionally, he makes a mild acknowledgement to moderate Muslims, he pursues his condemnation of Islam. Extremist Muslims also condemn the West. Extremists of any persuasion live in blame of the other.

Yet, I don’t think Harris has a phobia about Muslims. I define a phobia as an extreme, irrational fear of an unresolved issue triggering anxiety attacks or panic. He comes across as intensely anti-Muslim.

Sam Harris has around three decades of experience in Insight Meditation (referred to as Vipassana in the Buddhist tradition). He has attended short retreats of a week to three months in the West and Myanmar, as well as engaging in spiritual exploration in India. He has years of interest in the teachings of Non-duality (Advaita) but does not appear to have understood. He seems to have identified his extremist and dualistic views as Pro-West and Anti-Islam, which he sees as the external reality, rather than his state of mind.

I suspect Sam lacks real contact with Muslims in the Muslim world.  Alienation from the Muslim community reinforces these verbal/written attacks. It is hard to perceive a threat, an enemy, if you spend time in their homes, culture and benefit from their hospitality.

As the English proverb states: “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” In his 300-page book, The End of Faith, Sam Harris devotes sections of his book to targeting Islam with little reference to a critique of other faiths. (See the Index for the number of references to Islam/ Muslims compared to Judaism and Christianity). His attitude feeds into the stereotype of Muslims, prominent in the USA and elsewhere in the West. His views do not support wise and responsible approach to the Muslim community or US citizens.

Muslims in the West would feel understandably concerned at this concerted put down of their faith by a Jewish intellectual.

Quotations from Sam Harris and Source

  • There is no such thing as Islamophobia.  Exchange between Sam Harris and Glenn Greenwald. 2 April 2013.
  • Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thorough going cult of death.” Wikiquote 2004.
  • “The doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” Truthdig. February 2006
  • “I am one of the few people I know of who has argued in print that torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror. Sam Harris. In Defence of Torture. June 2006
  • The only future devout Muslims can envisage—as Muslims—is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed.” The Guardian 3 April 2013
  • “Honest reasoning declares that there is much that is objectionable—and, frankly, terrifying—about the religion of Islam.” Sam Harris. The Mosque 14 August 2010
  • “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism”; we are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.” Huffington Post. 25 June 2011
  • “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.” Sam Harris. The Reality of Islam 6 February 2006.
  • The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy. Huffington Post. 25 May 2011
  • On airport passengers: “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.” In Defence of Profiling. 28 April 2012.

What on Earth happened in the past of Sam Harris to trigger such violence in his views against Muslims?

Views change, become a different view, as much anything else changes, adapts or dissolves. In the years ahead, perhaps Sam Harris will have a turning point, gradual or sudden, enabling him to see how his views harm Muslims and feed the violent prejudices of non-Muslims.  He may conclude his anti-Muslim views reveals neither wisdom nor compassion.

On a Muslim country acquiring long-range nuclear weaponry, Harris endorses war crimes.

 “If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.

This would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.

Sam Harris, a Vipassana meditator

In his blog, Sam Harris tells his readers he is a Vipassana meditator. He wrote:

“I spent two years on silent retreat myself (in increments of one week to three months), practicing various techniques of meditation for twelve to eighteen hours a day.

I believe that such states of mind have a lot to say about the nature of consciousness and the possibilities of human well-being.

Buddhism in particular possesses a literature on the nature of the mind that has no peer in Western religion or Western science.

For beginners, I usually recommend a technique called vipassana (Pali for “insight”), which comes from the oldest tradition of Buddhism, the Theravada. One of the advantages of vipassana is that it can be taught in an entirely secular way.

 My friend Joseph Goldstein, one of the finest vipassana teachers I know, likens this shift in awareness to the experience of being fully immersed in a film and then suddenly realizing that you are sitting in a theater watching a mere play of light on a wall. Your perception is unchanged, but the spell is broken.”

Final Word

Sam Harris needs to engage in soul searching.  He could apply his intellect to showing concern for the immense suffering of Muslim communities in the Arab world and the West. He could write fierce criticisms of the ideology of superiority of the USA government, NATO and the Israeli government with the massive bombings, invasions and slaughter of Muslims in cities, towns and villages.  He could reflect on the anti-Muslim propaganda in the media to justify the West’s engagement in mass murder.

I trust in my experience over years with many Muslims in many Muslim countries rather than identify with views/doctrines that feed division and suffering.





I published this blog in 2015 and edited years later. Here is the link to click on on Islamophobia..




2 thoughts on “Is Sam Harris suffering from Islamophobia? Is it inexperience of Muslim communities? Or neither?”

  1. It is indeed very stupid to write that he is suffering from Islamophobia. That is a dirty trick they did in the Soviet Union. All the people with “different” views were mentally sick. You can try to use your brain and argue, if you have some good arguments. Sam Harris has many good arguments.

  2. Hi Christopher,
    It’s been a long time since I read anything by Sam Harris but I know my impression at that time was that his anti-religious reasoning seemed rooted in personal fear. Recently in conversation with people in America/Canada/Europe, I’ve been amazed at how they are caught up in “the spell of fear and blame” as you so aptly put it.
    Something is happening that’s very divisive; breaking up friendships and even marriages. Rational thought has been largely abandoned.
    I hope I’m wrong but it looks like an attack on Iran is in the works. This has brought out the “Peacenik” side of my personality with feelings of sympathy for all the people who may be harmed by the stupidity of such a war.

    I’m sure you remember that when we were in Tehran,1967, the coronation of the Shah was taking place just then. I met a friendly Persian family who took me in to their home for a night or two. They gave me a history lesson about the CIA intervention in 1952 which had overthrown their democratically elected Mossadeq government. The issue was control of oil, of course. The Shah’s regime neglected the people in favor of military strength and the repressive police state. He was portrayed by the western press as a benign and well-loved monarch– fake news way back then!
    When we went to see the coronation parade I was instructed to cheer and clap enthusiastically because SAVAK agents would be in the crowd looking for dissenters. It was my first taste of real oppression and it was American backed.

    Sadly, it’s not only Sam Harris focusing “on the murderous intent of Islamic extremists and the savagery of terror in the Islamic world without any understanding of the range of causes and conditions that give rise to these wars and regional conflicts.”

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